by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)
The past few years, 2015 and 2016, I’ve run this race the weather conditions were perfect. This year they weren’t. Far from it. This came off the back of another work trip to Europe, ending with a flight arrving late Thursday night at JFK from London Heathrow. I’d had an easy few days so felt rested and the body clock, on Europe time 5 hours ahead, meant I was wide awake, if not raring to go, at 5am.
But I went into this race with confidence riding low. I’d been well beaten in the New Balance 5th Avenue Mile, was carying a low level calf strain that had caused me to cut short a Mona Fartlek session on Tuesday, and considerable work travel that had gotten in the way of my usual run routine.
The last 8 days I’d been on a whistle stop Europe tour taking in London (twice), Munich (for Oktoberfest at this great joint), Brussels and Frankfurt. I got in some great runs including two from a Munich Airport hotel, this one where a flat iPhone battery caused me to run 5 miles overdistance. In just over 24 hours I drank 2 litres of beer, ate half a duck and ran 26 miles. I’m strangely proud of that ‘achievement’. That 26 miles got me to 70 miles for the week, the weekly target that’s eluded me for much of the past 4 months.
Right, back to the race. Sham and I picked up team mate Javier Rodriguez from Dobbs Ferry as we drove to the race from Peekskill. Javier and I jumped out of the car at the junction of the Madison Avenue Bridge and I87 and ran the mile or so north up the Grand Concourse. We ran the first and last mile of the course, did a few strides, met up with Urban Athletics (UA) team mates and got into the starting corral. Then we were off. Along with 15,000 others.
I quickly settled into a group including Bobby Asher (VCTC) and Brian Leese (NBR). We passed the first mile in 5:15. My target was sub-55 minutes. That would demand an average pace of 5:30. But I’d not fully factored in the weather. It was in the high 70sF (25C), bathed in bright unforgiving sunshine on an exposed course.
I traded places with the group but some got away. By mile 3 I had settled into 5:25-5:30 pace. My group kept changing composition. Brent Frissora (NYAC), who I’d narrowly beaten when running 53:36 in 2015, cruised past. I tried to join his train. I did for all of a mile. I passed mile 3 in 16:20 and 5K in 16:55. At this point of the race I thought I might not be able to finish. I’d maybe gone out too hard. A big group was chasing me. And the short climb out of the underpass around mile 3 felt like a mountain.
The end of the Grand Concourse came into view. I was now stranded and would be until I got back onto the Grand Concourse just shy of mile 6. I passed half way in 27:35. The long steady incline up the Mosholu Parkway from the Bronx Botanical Gardens to the Grand Concourse slowed me to a 5:47 6th mile. But any thought of stopping I’d flushed from my mind. Everyone was hurting. And I was needed for the team – open, masters and M50+. As team mate Paul Wong, a fellow Brit, had said the M50+ NYRR 2017 Club Standings were “as tight as an Arsenal shirt”: UA and CPTC were neck ‘n’ neck on 108 points, 84 less the worst two races.
Onto the Grand Concourse I was joined by a group of 5 including team mate Javier and top M40 contenders Guillermo Pineda Morales (Memo) and Klaus Kuorikoski (a new comer to the NYRR racing scene from Finland and racing for Henwood’s Hounds). I passed 10K in around 34:15. A few of the group, including Memo and Klaus, opened a gap on me. I was now in damage limitation mode, just like in the closing miles of a marathon. Javi dropped off the back. I now had my sights on Klaus, who Memo had gapped, and Brent who was slowing down after opening a big gap on me mid-race. I knew that I was home and dry at around 8.5 miles as I passed Brent. From there it’s an ever increasingly steep descent to the finish line outside Yankee Stadium.
I got into my stride in those final few miles. I was now catching the runners in front. I overtook Klaus but on official timing (cip to chip) we were level on 55:24. Good for 24th overall, 1st M50+ and 2nd M40+ (after Memo on 55:06). I topped the age grading with 89.65%. Sebastien was next UA man home, running 56:14 for 3rd M40-44, followed by Javier on 56.43 for 4th M40-44. That nailed the M40+ team for UA by over 9 minutes.
It was a good day for the Team UA. The W40+ (Fiona Bayly (1st W40+ in 61:46), Ellen Basille (2nd W45-49 in 65:40) and Cathrine Wolden (4th W45-49 in 66:49) won by almost 15 minutes, nearly 5 minutes for each of the three scorers. That leaves the M40+ and W40+ teams with almost unassailable leads in the NYRR 2017 Club Standings. The M50+ team (Adam Kuklinski (7th M50-54 in 63:38), Paul Wong (20th M50-54 in 68:25) and me) also placed first, and now have a narrow gap over CPTC in the 2017 club standings. Things were less rosy for the UA open teams (6th men and 8th women), depleted by injury athletes and those focused on a fall marathon.
So it played out better than hoped. I had self doubts during the race. But those doubts were overcome by the need to do my best for the team. And I came away top of the UK M50 rankings for 10 miles.